A CRITICAL LOOK AT BLACK PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY
by James Foritano
When the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art opened last fall in Harvard Square, just behind Peet’s Coffee, I was overjoyed, since there’s now somewhere in the square one can enter and leave with rich takings without being followed out the door by some officious busybody pestering you about “private property.”
Of course, here you have to bring something in, leave it behind and come back again to re-examine the changes that have occurred since you left it there. But you’re up to that, I know, or we wouldn’t be talking.
To accommodate a mid-August deadline, gallery director Vera Grant provided a preview of the exhibition three weeks prior to its official opening on September 2. Fortuitously, nothing on the walls had any identifying text so the exhibition, “Black Chronicles II,” curated by Autograph ABP (an international organization dedicated to chronicling black photographic history), was a silent song to itself and any mysteries it might awaken in the viewer.
I suggest, on your first go-round, that you ignore the texts and simply look at this collection of 100-plus photographs of 19th- and early 20th-century black subjects in Britain, some blessed with celebrity, some “ordinary,” some anonymous, all taken by professional photographers with the accoutrements of costumes, props and grouping thought necessary by the then-British Empire to identify its far-flung colonials to themselves and to others.